Choosing the Right Rifle for Pronghorn Antelope | Field & Stream

Choosing the Right Rifle for Pronghorn Antelope

Deer hunters often mistakenly believe that you need to shoot long for Pronghorn.

THE PRONGHORN ANTELOPE is not the most difficult of beasts to hunt, but there is an increasingly widespread misconception that taking one involves shooting at distances just short of an Olympic marathon course. You can do this if you wish. You can even call it hunting if you want to; it's still a free country…sort of. But the facts are much different.

The Truth About Goat Distance
WESTERNERS CALL PRONGHORNS GOATS. It's not a euphonious appellation (question to movie buffs: Who used this phrase?), but it will do here. I killed my first goat in 1972 at 150 yards and have hunted them more or less regularly since then. In my entire history of sending bullets after pronghorns, I've made only one long shot, which was at 460 yards. But that was not typical antelope hunting. Of all the goat shots I've taken, the average has probably been about 150 yards.

The key to getting up on the beasts lies in the seemingly flat land they inhabit, which is actually broken, cut, and intersected by coulees, ravines, gul lies, washes, draws, ridges, hills, and divides. A smart antelope hunter can take advantage of this tortured topography to get close'almost always less than 200 yards, and very often less than 100.

Antelope Exactitude
MOST MISSES ON ANTELOPE occur because hunters don't believe they're as close as they are and shoot way over them. The cure for this is a laser rangefinder, and one of the very best is the new Leica Rangemaster CRF 900 (leica-camera.com). It's small and well made, with more than enough power (it's accurate to 900 yards) for any sane shot, and it costs $550 in the real world. As a Montana guide said to me, "Hunters don't believe me when I say it's a 200-yard shot, but if the rangefinder says it's 200, they buy that."

The Truth About Goat Guns
THIS MEANS YOU are not going to need a huge scope or a rifle whose bullets exceed the speed of light. Antelope are not big -- the bucks range from 90 to 130 pounds (although this last is a pretty huge goat) and stand perhaps 3 feet at the shoulder. They are not hard to kill, although if you shoot one in the paunch it can run almost forever.

Good goat cartridges run from the .243 and 6mm at the bottom end to the .270 at the top. This takes in such rounds as the 257 Roberts, 7mm/08, 6.5×55, .260 Remington, and the 25/06.

Very possibly, the 25/06 is the best goat gun of all. It's a wonderful, light-kicking round that has plenty of velocity (but not so much that it will destroy the animal) and enough bullet weight, and it can double very nicely for mule deer if you're hunting them on the same ticket.

Whichever caliber you decide on, be sure to get quick-expanding bullets, such as the Nosler Ballistic Tip, or the Winchester Ballistic Silvertip. You don't need a great amount of penetration on goats, and these bullets will get the job done quickly.

I prefer a little weight in an antelope rifle. You won't have to carry it very far, and you want something steady that you can shoot prone.

Their Eyes vs. Your Eyes
GOATS HAVE ASTOUNDING VISION, so to level the playing field, you should have a scope with 8X-10X top magnification and a 10X binocular. If you're guiding yourself, bring a spotting scope. This last comes in very handy for judging trophy heads from a very long distance.

Smart hunters stay in the pickup to do their glassing and get out only when they are out of sight of the antelope. Goats are not alarmed by pickups (unless they're being chased), but a man on foot is reason to go elsewhere fast.

How Low Can You Go?
PRONGHORN HUNTERS STAND a good chance of getting a steady prone shot, so learn to shoot over your daypack, or to use a sling from prone. Or buy a Harris bipod (harrisbipods.com) and clamp it to your fore-end. You may have to crawl to get into position, and if so, you'll find that the sagebrush is carpeted with small cacti, yuccas, rocks, and serpents. To deal with the first three, go to brigadequartermaster.com, which sells military stuff, and order a set of knee and elbow guards.

Note: If you encounter a prairie rattler while creeping up on a goat, here's what to do:
1. Back away slowly.
2. Case your rifle and get in the truck.
3. Drive to the airport and go home. Only lunatics crawl around with venomous serpents.

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